Wednesday, June 7

Songs, tears and reunions: New Zealand welcomes back tourists as border reopens after two years | new zealand

Māori songs, tearful embraces and a beloved New Zealand chocolate bar awaited international visitors arriving in New Zealand on Monday – the first foreign guests, other than Australians, to set foot in Aotearoa in more than two years.

Since March 2020, the arrival terminals at New Zealand’s international airports have been desolate as the country swiftly closed the border to prevent the arrival of Covid-19.

On Monday morning, the border reopened to vaccinated visitors from about 60 visa-waiver countries as part of the government’s phased reopening plan.

The first travelers and returning New Zealanders touched down just after 6am at Auckland international airport from Los Angeles, with another flight from San Francisco arriving shortly after.

Garth and Chris Halliday cried as their son Stephen arrived with his wife and son, who they hadn’t seen in over a year, the news website Stuff reported. Garth said the tearful airport scenes were reminiscent of those in the film Love Actually, while Stephen said it was “emotional” to be home.

An American tourist awning RNZ through tears they had wanted to visit New Zealand for many years. “I’m finally here. It’s amazing,” they said.

Vaccinated international visitors can enter New Zealand if they have had a negative pre-departure Covid test. On arrival, they must self-test for coronavirus, and unless it comes back positive there is no requirement quarantine or self-isolate.

All other international visitors will be allowed to enter New Zealand from October, unless the government decides it is safe to do so earlier.

The tourism minister, Stuart Nash, who greeted arrivals at the gate with a Whittaker’s Peanut Slab chocolate bar, told 1News the meetings “almost bring a tear to the eye.”

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“People haven’t seen each other for a long, long time – family and friends,” he said. “We have also, of course, got international business people [who] are able to reconnect and they are coming back.”

Nash said that while the country is not yet quite back to normal, the reopening was another step towards it.

“This has been a long time [coming] – this sends a signal we are now open for business… it is fantastic to see,” Nash said.

“Today marks a milestone for visitors from our key northern hemisphere markets in the USA, UK, Germany, South Korea, Japan, Singapore, Malaysia, Canada and others, who can now jump on a plane to come here.”

More than 30,000 people are arriving into the country each week – an increase in numbers throughout the pandemic, but well below pre-Covid levels, which were close to 25,000 people each day.

Nash said international flight searches to New Zealand were running 19% higher than in pre-Covid times.

Auckland airport’s chief executive Carrie Hurihanganui said 9,000 passengers would be arriving and departing on 43 international flights on Monday – three times the number in March. The airport has increased its staff by 40 people, and will continue to do so in the coming months, she said.

Hurihanganui said the meetings were giving her “goosebump moments”.

“It’s been a pleasure to be here today, and the fact we can play a role in welcoming people back to Aotearoa is fantastic,” she told 1News outside the arrivals gate.

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